Palestinians' U.N. Bid for Statehood Undermines Peace Process
Thousands of Mississippians have been inspired to journey across the world to visit the Holy Land. I have seen this profound calling firsthand when meeting church groups from our state during my own visits there. Their pilgrimages of faith and history are shared by more than 3 million people around the globe each year.
Deep divisions between Israel and the Palestinians have required diplomatic engagement in the region for decades, and disputes over land, autonomy, and religion continue to prevent lasting stability and security. Unfortunately, negotiations for peace have been derailed by acts of violence and longtime distrust. The current bid for statehood at the United Nations by the Palestinian Authority threatens to aggravate and perpetuate this cruel cycle.
Appeals for Direct Talks
By dismissing negotiations, the Palestinian Authority's unilateral call for sovereignty risks setting back years of work toward building a future where Palestinians and Israelis can live side by side in harmony. The effort ignores Israel as a stakeholder in the peace process, undermines the Jewish state's legitimacy on the international stage, and attempts to skirt the issue of persistent violence by Hamas rebels, who have harmed innocent civilians throughout the region. The recognition of a Palestinian state outside of negotiations might even embolden this terrorist group.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has asked Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to return to the negotiating table. Congress has passed resolutions this year demanding a decrease in U.S. aid if the Palestinian Authority pursues statehood without direct talks. It is imperative for the United States to make it abundantly clear that a negotiated peace is the only way forward. We must utilize our role within the United Nations and the global community to stand with Israel.
An Important Friendship
The United States has been a longtime supporter of Israel's right to exist and to defend itself amid threats from hostile neighbors -- including those who want to "wipe it off the map," as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad once said. Our partnership remains critical as the Middle East continues to transform in the wake of this year's Arab Spring uprisings against oppressive authoritarian rulers.
Despite the region's emerging democracies, Israel is still in danger of more violence and growing isolation. In just the past few weeks, a mob of Egyptian protesters attacked the Israeli embassy in Cairo, Gaza militants fired hundreds of rockets into the country, and Turkey downgraded its diplomatic relations. The prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran within firing distance causes even more concern, and I am a strong supporter of sanctions to deter Iran.
The Way Forward
Over the years, I have worked in Congress to maintain and enhance our country's commitment to Israel and to promote stability within the Middle East. I have met with leaders directly involved with the peace process and supported legislation to strengthen the U.S. alliance.
If necessary, the United States should use our U.N. Security Council veto to prevent the Palestinian Authority's unilateral bid for statehood. Any vote by the General Assembly in favor of statehood would be non-binding, but the Palestinians' success there could have broad implications. President Abbas wrote in the New York Times earlier this year that it could "pave the way for the internationalization of the conflict as a legal matter" -- ultimately allowing for Palestinians to cause trouble for Israel in international courts and agencies.
We cannot let Israel stand alone. As the Palestinian Authority moves away from negotiations, the United States must maintain its resolve and work to bring the two sides back together.